The Oxford Comma That Cost Millions

Milk_glass

Photo Credit Stefan Kuhn

Ever been told that you’re a grammar snob, that your pedantry over correct usage is out of touch with colloquial humankind? (It’s not, “can I go to the bathroom,” rather it’s “may.”) Get out the schadenfreude, because the milkmen and women of Maine have brought a successful challenge to the dairy industry because some lawmaker didn’t check the grammar books!

I’m talking about the Oxford Comma. In Maine, the dispute over the meaning of an overtime law came down to the placement of said comma. Dairy delivery drivers were seeking overtime pay. It was understood that the overtime law did not apply to food production and all related industries around it, but the law was ambiguous when it came to distribution.

Casey C. Sullivan Explains over at FindLaw:

If distribution was meant to be exempted, an Oxford comma would clearly separate it from packing: “packing for shipment, or distribution.” But if packing was meant to be a singular activity, applying both to packing for shipment and packing for distribution, no comma would be needed, and delivery drivers would not be exempted.

The language not being clear, the court decided to side with the drivers.

Pay attention in English class, folks.

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